By Emil Danielyan
President Robert Kocharian has congratulated ultra-conservative politician Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his surprise election as Iran’s new president, expressing hope that Armenian-Iranian relations will develop further during his tenure.
“Armenia attaches great importance to relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Kocharian said in a congratulatory message sent to Ahmadinejad on Monday and released by his press service the next day. “I hope that during your presidency the relationship between our two countries will continue to follow an upward trajectory and register new successes to the benefit of our peoples.”
Ties with Iran are seen as vital by Armenia’s leadership and virtually all political groups. They grew closer during the eight-year rule of Ahmadinejad’s reformist predecessor Mohammad Khatami, culminating in the latter’s visit to Yerevan last September. Khatami described them as a benchmark for peaceful co-existence and cooperation between neighbors. The visit was followed by the start of construction on a pipeline that will pump Iranian natural gas to Armenia by 2008.
Armenian officials will not speculate about the possible impact on the bilateral ties of Ahmadinejad’s religiously conservative views which have prompted concern in the West.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is expected to retain final say on foreign policy and other key matters. The hardline cleric appears to have been generally supportive of the Islamic Republic’s warm rapport with its sole Christian neighbor.
Armenia could have more trouble simultaneously developing relations with Iran and the West if Ahmadinejad hardens Tehran’s stance in the dispute with the United States and the European Union over the Iranian nuclear program. The U.S. accuses Iran of secretly trying to build nuclear weapons, and U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Sunday referred to Ahmadinejad as “no friend of democracy.”
Some Iranian analysts say the former member of the hardline Revolutionary Guards will not be immediately hostile towards the West. "He will probably be quite cautious on foreign policy at first and concentrate more on his domestic agenda of wealth redistribution and social justice," one of them, Mahmoud Alinejad, told Reuters news agency.